Four years since the peak of the migration crisis in Europe, EU-member states still have not found a coordinated, effective solution to tackle migratory problems. Populist and anti-migration governments entering into European politics have pushed the EU to make deals with several countries, such as Libya, Turkey or Niger, to keep asylum seekers away from Europe.
In February 2017, EU leaders agreed on increasing cooperation with Libya to reduce irregular immigration - providing the country with €237m to fund programmes addressing migration challenges. But, after deadly airstrikes hit detention centres this summer around Libya's capital, Tripoli, the EU is now following plans set up by the African Union to evacuate migrants and refugees to Rwanda. The east African country will receive an initial batch of 500 migrants evacuated from Libya, although it is unclear when this will happen, according to the New York Times.
In addition to the Libyan facilities, the EU set up asylum centres in Niger in 2017, designed for the processing of refugees' status and, ultimately, for their resettlement to Europe and other countries. Since then, Niger has accepted over 2,900 migrants.
But, as Niger heads into a presidential election in 2021, their "willingness to cooperate with Libya and the EU seems to have reached its limit," according to Camille Le Coz, policy analyst for the Brussels-based think tank Migration Policy Institute Europe, in an opinion article published by The New Humanitarian.
More than any other EU country, Italy invested significant resources to try to decrease the flow of migrants coming to the Italian costs, mostly from Libya. Italy took the lead in providing material and technical assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard, whose aim is to intercept migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean sea and return them to Libyan detention centres.
According to the Human Right Watch (HRW), the EU in cooperation with Libya is contributing to a cycle of "extreme abuse". Migrants returned to detention centres in Libya "face inhuman and degrading conditions and the risk of torture, sexual violence, extortion, and forced labour," reported HRW.
Italy's far-right League leader Matteo Salvini toughened his anti-migration policy during his 14 months as the interior minister, closing ports to migrant rescue boats, creating laws which threatened charity vessels with high fines or posting racist commentaries on social media. However, the new Italian government, a coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), is expected to adopt a different approach.
The issue of migrants is likely to be the first item on her agenda, specially since the PS has pushed for "new law on immigration is needed". "This turning point is good. Now it's time to change Italy," said the PD leader, Nicola Zingaretti. "We have stopped Salvini and the mere announcement of this phase is making Italy a protagonist again in Europe."
“Our support for the LNA will not stop, and our support for Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar does not come at the expense of our relationship with the head of the Government of National Accord, Faez al-Sarraj. Cairo supports a political solution,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told foreign and local reporters on Nov. 8, 2017.
But the relationship between the GNA and the Egyptian regime started to become lukewarm after the LNA announced a military battle against militias loyal to the GNA in an effort to control the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on April 4. Cairo vocally supported the LNA's military actions in Tripoli, and the Egyptian president received Haftar, the LNA commander-in-chief, several times in Cairo after the battle and announced his support for him without any meetings or diplomatic contacts taking place between the Egyptian regime and the LNA.
These lukewarm relations between Egypt and the GNA degenerated further after Turkey's declared military support for the GNA in the Tripoli battle. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in June that “Turkey is providing weapons to the Tripoli government, which is necessary to restore the balance in the war against Haftar.” The Turkish intervention in the Tripoli battle led to the defeat and withdrawal of the LNA from the city of Gharyan in June. It also led the GNA to control the city, which prompted Haftar to declare war on the Turkish invasion of Libyan territory.
The losses Turkey inflicted on the LNA prompted the Egyptian regime to support its most prominent ally, the LNA, as the Egyptian Foreign Ministry officially attacked the armed militias and called for their disbanding and fighting, saying they are forces fighting under the GNA.
Hani Khallaf, a former Egyptian deputy foreign minister, told Al-Monitor that “Turkey's declaration that it is sending weapons to the GNA to fight the LNA has strained relations between the GNA and Egypt.”
“Egypt must reopen the channels of communication with the GNA in order to reach out to all Libyan parties, but the GNA also needs to act with good intentions and stop supporting extremist armed militias because Cairo cannot stand the presence of militias in an Arab sister state,” he added.
"Your armed forces have toppled the reactionary, backward and corrupt regime. With one strike your heroic army has toppled idols and destroyed them in one of Providence's fateful moments. As of now Libya shall be free and sovereign, a republic under the name of the Libyan Arab Republic. No oppressed or deceived or wronged, no master and no slave; but free brothers in a society over which, God willing, shall flutter the banner of brotherhood and equality."
On the morning of September 1, 1969, Libyans were woken up with this unexpected announcement on the radio. Army officers, led by a little-known 27-year-old lieutenant from the signal corps, Muammar al-Gaddafi, had overthrown Libya's unpopular King Idris while he was on a visit to Turkey for medical treatment.
Initially, Gaddafi modelled himself and his new regime on Gamal Abdul Nasser's in neighbouring Egypt, advocating pan-Arab socialist ideals.
However, in the early 1970s Gaddafi formulated his own "Third Universal Theory", as presented in The Green Book. In addition to bizarre theories about women, race, sports & a host of other areas, it was based on the principle "no representation in lieu of the people" and rejected not only capitalism and communism but parliaments and political parties in favour of people's congresses and committees, arguing that Western-style democracy was nothing but "elective dictatorship".
From 1977 onwards, Libya was no longer a "republic" (jumhuriya) but a Jamahiriya – a state of the masses. Power was held by the Basic People's Congresses, where all Libyans supposedly participated in national decision-making. In reality, Gaddafi still held absolute power in Libya and the function of the "People's Congresses" was simply to rubber-stamp his decisions. Any independent civil society organisations – trade unions, professional associations, political parties were banned. Setting up or trying to join a political party was a crime punishable by death.
Ashour Shamis, a long-time opponent of Gaddafi, says "In the seventies Gaddafi abolished state institutions. He took over almost every means of power in the country, politics, economics, security, education. It affected all aspects of the people's rights and freedoms. The only voice left was that of the 'revolution' and 'the leader' and his followers."
Many Libyan observers find the origins of Libya's current instability in Gaddafi's policies, which destroyed state institutions on the pretext of giving power to "the people". In an article for The New Arab last year, Libyan politician Guma el-Gamaty attributed the origin of militia culture in Libya to Gaddafi's deliberate weakening of the formal Libyan army.
A survey of the attitudes of Libyan students in Malaysia in 2017 found that Gaddafi's ideas still subconsciously influence Libyans' values and beliefs. While Libya adopted a multiparty system immediately after Gaddafi's overthrow, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) of respondents expressed distrust in political parties and more than half (58 percent) thought they should be banned. The authors of the survey concluded that "Gaddafi created a collective awareness of anti-democracy in general".
Ashour Shamis attributes the current chaos in Libya to Gaddafi's anti-governmental ideas and his destruction of social institutions. "Feelings of revenge and antagonism and jealousy, and hatred among social groups, classes and individuals have taken root everywhere. People considered everything 'fair game', hated and detested and despised the law and all manifestation of government."
Since the beginning of the summer, the Libyan capital has experienced no less than five major water cuts. The first one on May 20, at dawn. These interruptions are in addition to frequent power outages. At the end of July, when the mercury hit over 35°C and most parts of the capital had to cope with just three hours of electricity a day, Tripoli’s taps ran empty for several days.
Admittedly, the front line is dozens of kilometres from the centre of the capital, which has been besieged by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar since 4 April. But the resource war has invaded Tripolitan homes. In fact, the problem has been endemic since 2011, due to the inevitable degradation of infrastructure.
“Foreign technicians no longer dare to set foot here for security reasons, and all modernisation contracts – such as the project to build three desalination plants between Tripoli and Misrata – remain blocked despite the huge investment opportunities,” says Farraj al-Amari, former Director of Planning at Tripoli’s Ministry of Electricity and Water.
The collateral damage of the Libyan security situation is not solely to blame. National resources are also one of the central issues in the civil conflict. Their poor management crystallises the tensions of a country, divided between clans and tribal groups, that has never made peace with its past.
“Since 2011, and especially during periods of war, water and electricity resources have been a political lever. Armed groups know this. And they exploit it for community or personal claims,” explains Lazib Mohamed Essaïd, a doctoral student at the French Institute of Geopolitics and an expert on Libya. In Tripolitania, controlling access to water and electricity is a powerful means of applying pressure against an increasingly inoperative government.
Consequently, the Government of National Understanding (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj, attributed deliberate water cuts to the Eastern Marshal, accusing him of causing a humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave. “This summer, groups allied to Haftar in the southern part of the capital intentionally targeted water stations at least twice,” points Abdelkader Lahouili, a member of the Tripoli State High Council.
A United Nations press release has clearly described these as “attacks” and “potential war crimes” against civilians but stopped short of naming a perpetrator.
For their part, the LNA denies any involvement. Is Khalifa Haftar denying water to the population to win the battle? “He would have the means to do so, but the international community is watching him. Haftar still has a lot to lose in diplomatic matters. At the moment, he cannot afford to be likened to a war criminal,” says Jalel Harchaoui.
If Muammar Gadhafi had survived the 2011 revolt, he would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his own revolution, the one which toppled the hapless King Idris and brought him, a young colonel, to power. Conversely, the fallout from Libya’s 2011 revolution ultimately turned an oil exporting country into an impoverished one 'controlled' by two governments and a collection of competing militias.
The rump-state governed by the internationally recognised government is itself run by a nine-member presidential council headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. This eastern government, which is headquartered at the Abu Sitta naval base near Tripoli, is neither supported nor recognised by the House of Representatives, which is based in the western city of Tobruk. The speaker of the house is Aguila Saleh Issa, effectively a puppet & rubber stamp for his ally Khalifa Haftar, the renegade military commander who seeks to take over the capital, Tripoli, and become the country’s leader.
Haftar, who accompanied Gadhafi through the 1969 revolution and later served the CIA following his capture during the Libya-Chad War, is the head of a well-armed militia styled as the Libyan National Army. Haftar has taken over the eastern areas of Libya and set up headquarters in Benghazi, from which he has waged a successful campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorist forces. He is now receiving the assistance and support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Russia.
Sarraj enjoys the support of Turkey and Qatar. Although he can rely on a consortium of armed militias, they have proven incapable of defeating Haftar’s forces. They also need to deal with over a dozen tribal militias, as well as the Islamic State in southern Libya and another army, called the Petroleum Facilities Guard, which operates independently.
The military confrontation also naturally has stark economic consequences in that Haftar’s forces have control of the oil fields and export terminals in the east of the country and have deprived the government of highly needed revenue for running the country.
The diplomatic disagreements between France and Italy over a solution to the Libyan situation and between Turkey and Qatar on one hand and Egypt and the UAE on the other, and the UN’s limited ability to forge a political consensus have so far halted prospects that a plan for a solution would be accepted by all of the parties involved — or at least by the country’s military forces.
As long as Haftar believes in his ability to impose his will militarily and conquer Tripoli, and as long as the recognised government of Libya expects that it can foil Haftar by force, Libya will continue to be a country that is the sum of its parts.